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CEMESP holds freedom of information forum for local authorities, community radio journalists

(CEMESP/IFEX) - 12 September 2011 - Gbarnga - The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) has concluded the final phase of its Freedom of Information (FOI) Literacy Stakeholders Forum in Gbarnga under the theme "Increasing Public Information Flow and Freedom of Expression in Liberia".

Unlike the Monrovia forum of 5 September 2011, which attracted participants from among lawmakers, media executives and civil society organisations, the Gbarnga forum targeted local authorities and community radio journalists from Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Margibi counties.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph explained that the stakeholders' forum was part of its FOI Literacy Research and Publication Project, funded by UNESCO. He spoke about the ongoing research component of the project, which holds test-case implication for MRU [Mano River Union] countries in the context of post-conflict electoral environments. While acknowledging the historic importance of Liberia's enactment of a freedom of information law - the first country in West Africa to do so - Joseph noted that there was much lacking in terms of implementation.

"This is why CEMESP has targeted stakeholders outside Monrovia to brainstorm issues that can push implementation forward under the facilitation and insight of one of the best FOI minds, in the person of Edet Ojo of Media Rights Agenda in Nigeria," Joseph pointed out. He urged participants to ask questions, adding that the FOI law was not only media-oriented but concerned the general welfare of all citizens.

Other speakers who registered goodwill to the process included the President of the Association of Liberia Community Radios William Quire; Paramount Chief and Chairman of Traditional Leaders of Bong County Flomo T. Barwror; Mayor of Gbarnga City Esther C. Warbay; Chairman of the Bong Legislative Caucus Hon. George Mulbah, and the administrative assistant to the superintendent of Bong County.

The forum had three presentation sessions, covering historic and international perspectives of freedom of information, features of the Liberia FOI Act 2010, and effective implementation. A final communiqué was adopted, with participants pledging to expedite FOI implementation in Liberia, lobby government on the issue of instituting the Office of the Independent Information Commissioner and work to amend ambiguous and inconsistent areas of the law. Media and civil society organisations also pledged to raise awareness of the FOI law and encourage its public use, while stakeholders pledged to monitor implementation of the FOI law and parliamentarians to take leadership of its implementation.

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